Welcome to our Guest Blog written by our happy customer, Michael Clark.
We had visited Wroclaw briefly in 2016 on a tour with Leeds Festival Chorus when we had 8 hours in the town comprising a whirlwind walking tour, eating, rehearsing and singing, having travelled by coach the 70 miles from our hotel in Opole.
Thursday 26th April
In 2018 Ryanair began a new route direct from Leeds to Wroclaw and the recently opened Arundel Travel Agency in Otley provided a wide range of hotel options for our travel dates. We chose the bargain priced 4* hotel ‘Q Hotel Plus Wroclaw’ for bed and buffet breakfast.
The flight to Wroclaw left Leeds at 5pm. 2¼ hours in the air, one hour time change and a half hour car transfer to the hotel got us there around 9pm, just in time to get a starter and dessert at the trendy hotel restaurant, open 12 noon till 10pm. The price of food and drink in the hotel were very reasonable, a point noted later in the city generally. Reception were very helpful and a useful booklet called Wroclaw In Your Pocket, updated regularly and available free, told us everything needed for a brief city visit.
Friday 27th April
There is a regular airport bus to the centre of town but that may not be as useful in the evening as it only goes to the city centre and specific hotels would need finding on foot or with the frequent tram and bus services.
The weather was in our favour (80 degrees all weekend) so on Friday we got the tram towards the market square after breakfast. Trams from the hotel stop went to many destinations and ticket buying on the tram itself is very easy. Click the Union Jack logo, choose a single fare at 70p (or day pass at £2.50). You must use contactless Debit or Credit Card on the tram although tram-stop machines may also take cash. A screen message ‘set to go’ appears and apparently the card retains the ticket in its memory for inspection if required later – very up to date technology!
A passenger kindly advised us, after travelling about 6 stops, that if we wanted the Market Square and Town Hall we should get off, as the tram lines go round the central area in a loop not across it.
We wandered around the square, visited the tourist office, had a chocolate drink at one of the numerous cafe’s and investigated the whereabouts of a number of attractions we had seen in the guide.
We also encountered very quickly the ‘Gnomes’ that Wroclaw is famous for – because you literally stumble across them. These 30cm high bronze figures are everywhere and represent events or nearby traders. Ice cream eating, fire hose carrying, drinking, use of abacus, lifting cakes onto windowsills….. The tourist office has a map available showing the locations and names of 100 of these, but websites estimate 200 to 300. You could spend an afternoon ‘spotting’ them, a great game for families and adults alike.
They were not intended to be a tourist attraction but were a consequence of the political climate of the 1980’s when an underground protest movement called ‘Orange Alternative’ made play of the militia painting over anti-establishment graffiti or public art. The ‘Alternative’ began repainting these bare spaces almost before the paint dried, with illustrations of Gnomes and soon attendees of peaceful protest rallies dressed as such. Arrests of these people looking ridiculous made the news almost nightly and made the authorities look idiotic. The movement spread nationwide and once communism fell, the Dwarf became the symbol of Wroclaw and statuettes were commissioned by the City Council. The idea took off as many traders created and erected their own designs.
Refreshing cups of tea (ask for extra milk) and double waffle cone ice creams are readily available in cafe’s and ice cream parlours – so necessary in the heat.
We were recommended restaurants in a railway viaduct arch, only a 5 minute walk from the hotel. Many bars and restaurants occupied these arches and outdoor space. We chose a kitchen cafe and were very pleased with the food. Prices were extremely low and after the meal we tried the local flavoured Vodka that Poland is famous for.
Saturday 28th April
Saturday a longer tram ride, changing in the city centre, got us to the Centennial Hall (a UNESCO site) together with the Zoo, Japanese Garden, Pergola Fountain and Four Dome Pavilion. An antiques market was outside and we paid to enter the hall and exhibition area to view and learn about the amazing history of the building. We sat in the cafe facing the fountain and walked round the beautiful gardens.
Returning a couple of stops along the tram line, we alighted at Cathedral Island (Ostrow Tumski). Although once an island, part of the waterways were filled in to reduce flooding and the Cathedral stands with its two towers giving a great view of the city – climb 40 steps to an elevator that takes you to the top. In front of the Cathedral is the district’s only restaurant, Lwia Brama2, which was the most expensive place we ate in all weekend but was worth it. Nicely presented and having a lovely street veranda where we sat to eat, drink and people watch. Evening visitors may encounter the Lamplighter who goes round this district in his cape and top hat at dusk, lighting 103 gas lamps 365 days a year.
A couple of tram stops beyond the hotel is a water tower, modelled on a medieval castle, completed in 1905 to serve the city water supply. The building was originally constructed to house the employees as well, and also had a lift, which for a fee, whisked people up the 63m tower for the view. It survived almost unscathed the ferocious shelling by the Russians in the Second World War and was converted to a bistro and restaurant after 1995, although the premises were overgrown when I called.
An evening stroll to the nearby Glowny railway station to find a Bistro, that turned out to have closed at 7pm, led us to the unusual and colourful building of the station building, once the largest in Europe. Behind the railway station was the contrasting modern bus station and shopping precinct, which apparently stays fully open until 11pm. An ice cream parlour right in the centre provided an evening treat.
Sunday 29th April
With bags stored at reception, we took another pair of trams to the relatively new Polish History Museum where the more recent history of Poland is represented by a timeline walk through the years 1939 to date. This museum had so many artefacts, display boards and video stories as well as restored memorabilia, that we were loosing concentration after an hour (2/3rds of the way round) and retired to the cafe to refresh. The warm weather deterred us from returning so we went back to the market square to soak up the sunny atmosphere before returning to the hotel and transfer to the airport.
The only low point of the weekend was the airport check in service. After a rather rapid taxi ride to the airport we were very early, but the large queue for three check in desks took 50 minutes to clear, negating our intention to have a relaxed meal in the airport restaurant before boarding.
This highly recommended break has much more to offer. The history of how Poland has been affected over centuries by invasions and border disputes is well worth researching. There are also many churches, a moat, Jewish quarter, the Hydropolis watertank discovery centre, assorted museums, over 100 bridges, street art, neon signs, a sky tower (tallest in Poland at 212m), lots of quaint back streets full of bars & restaurants of so many cultures, as well as plenty of shops. Nightlife is also extensively reported on in the In Your Pocket Guide.
Written by Michael Clark